What Is Memorial Day?

Observed the last Monday in May, Memorial Day honors those who lost their lives while in service to the United States during peace and war. Memorial Day 2024 is on Monday, May 27.

Memorial Day is not a celebration, but a solemn day to reflect on veterans and military personnel who are deceased. Unfortunately, it is common practice to hold cookouts and barbecues on Memorial Day weekend, to welcome the summer season. While it’s not disrespectful to enjoy time with family and friends, many people have forgotten the real reason for the holiday.

Memorial Day was previously known as Decoration Day, although especially in the South, the observance was also commonly called “Memorial Day” from the very beginning, in the 1860s.

In 1865, one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations — perhaps the very first — was organized by formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina, according to newspaper reports from that time. That was at least a year before other U.S. cities held similar events.

It wasn’t until three years later, however, that the observance officially began, in May 1868. It was known as “Decoration Day” from the practice of using spring flowers to decorate the gravesites of men who died while serving in the Civil War.

In 2000, a new federal law designated 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day as the ”National Moment of Remembrance,” when Americans are encouraged to observe a minute of silence to remember service members and veterans who have died.